James Le Fanu

‘For every problem there is a solution: neat, plausible and wrong’. H.L.Mencken

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If magnet therapy cures animals, why not humans?

THE standard argument deployed by those sceptical about alternative medicine is that any benefit people may derive can be attributed to the placebo response: if you believe strongly enough that reflexology, or whatever, is making you better, the likelihood is that better you will become.

Fair enough, but the same argument obviously cannot apply with animals, who have no expectation of whether a treatment will work, and so the placebo response cannot apply. It is thus very interesting to learn that vets are impressed by a variety of alternative therapies.

I first became aware of this a year ago, following a reader’s letter about her son’s elderly and arthritic Labrador. Paying her a visit one weekend, he opened the back door of the car and, to her surprise, the aged hound leapt out and started running around like a dog half its age. When she enquired as to what might account for this transformation, her son told her the vet had recommended fitting a magnetic collar.

She was as astonished as he was by the result. If it works for dogs, she thought, why shouldn’t it work for humans? She duly purchased a similar magnetic device for her arthritic wrist, which, she was delighted to report, had had a similar beneficial effect.

Then, earlier this year, The Daily Telegraph reported another dramatic response to magnet therapy in a 25-year-old mare called April, who had walked with a limp ever since breaking her cannon bone in a fall. Her owner, Mrs Gail Rawlings, feared she might have to be put down, but was persuaded to have her fitted with a pair of boots with powerful magnets. A fortnight later the horse was trotting around the paddock and, soon after, clearing fences. "It’s like a 70-year-old woman with a broken hip suddenly making a full recovery," Mrs Rawlings observed. April subsequently qualified for the finals of the National Veteran of the Year Competition.

Clearly, the placebo response cannot have been involved in either of these instances of the veterinary application of magnetic therapy. It must work, even if it is not clear how, and the consistent view of doctors over the past 100 years that magnetism is synonymous with quackery must be misplaced. I have recently received several letters from readers, all describing a similar experience after an MRI scan – a sort of glorified X-ray machine which uses pulses of magnetic energy to create a picture of the structures of the body. It is particularly helpful in identifying the causes of back pain but has never been suggested to have any specific therapeutic effects – but read on.

Mr John Rudkin, from Cambridgeshire, suffered severe attacks of back pain for which his consultant recommended an MRI scan. "Repeat exposures were necessary in the scanner, as the excruciating pain made it difficult to remain still in the required position." The consequence was that he spent about 50 minutes in the magnetic fields. Soon after, his pain disappeared and has not reappeared.

Back pain can, of course, get better of its own accord, but when several readers describe the same experience, it is not unreasonable to speculate that this is yet further evidence of the healing properties of magnets.

Copyright: Telegraph Group Ltd